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Monday, January 21, 2013

Zandri: Shelter schools need power; Generators at Sheehan, LHHS would make town better prepared

As published in the Record Journal, Monday January 21, 2013

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD -  A massive storm rips through town, knocking out power to the entire community, including the shelter at Sheehan High School.

The situation may be a bit unlikely, but Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri wants to make sure the town is prepared for such an incident. Councilors Tuesday will discuss Zandri’s proposal to purchase generators or find alternative sources to power the town’s two high schools so they can be used as shelters in the event of town-wide outages.

“If a main feeder goes down, we’re done,” Zandri said. “I’m looking for a strategy to handle if we have a major power-loss situation.”

Emergency Management Director Ernest Frattini said none of the schools in town are generator-powered. There’s a generator at the Cook Hill Firehouse and 40 people could be sheltered there.

“I think we’ve been very lucky but there’s always that ‘what if?’ ” Frattini said. “We could get something that hits us where the whole town loses power for days.”

“We’ve never had a situation like that, but we’re not immune to it,” Zandri said.

Frattini said he was putting together his department’s budget request and he didn’t anticipating asking for a large capital expenditure like generators. But if times get better, Frattini said, he’d like to purchase large, portable generators that could be hooked up to either high school to power it for use as a shelter.

“If one school is in a danger zone, we can move it to the other one,” he said. “I’d like to have them both set up to use a generator.”

The town schools could still be used for shelters without electricity if there was a demonstrated need, Frattini said.

Shelters were set up during Hurricane Irene and an October snowstorm in 2011, but only about 15 people stayed the night during the two incidents. Shelters weren’t used during Hurricane Sandy last year.

Republican Councilor John LeTourneau said he believed it would make more sense to shelter people in the town’s volunteer fire stations than spending money on new generators.

“I think the money could be put to better use,” LeTourneau said.

LeTourneau also noted that the town, which has its own Electric Division, typically experiences fewer outages than surrounding communities serviced by Connecticut Light & Power or United Illuminating and power is often restored more quickly.

Tuesday’s Town Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.